Author Archives: prairiepond

And now, for something completely different…

Ok, this is what happens when I’m snowed in and “home alone” for four days….

Remember the funny “Cows With Guns” I’ve posted before?

If not, here’s the linky

Dana has a new one out called “Three Legged Coyote”. Here’s a link to Harvey Wasserman’s review of it.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0912/S00057.htm

I thought you might enjoy it.

http://www.cowswithguns.com/cgi-bin/listen_album_coyote.cgi

I think we could all use a laugh today!

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The Biggest Hole in My Pocket

Like many of you, my personal health insurance is going up in November by a factor of over twenty-five percent. I’m caught in the aging baby boomer dilemma of needing to keep myself covered, because at my age, I’m just a walking pre-existing condition.  But I have to wonder how long I can continue paying almost half of my income for health insurance.  And all the while, a hell of a lot of the remaining half needs to be dedicated in reserve for taxes, including taxes that are health care related.

I’ve been thinking lately that while most people say they are “worth more dead than alive” as a joke, for me, it’s rapidly becoming a reality. I wonder if I’m not better off just dropping my health insurance now and facing the future without it.  I mean, why pay another year of half my income when the health insurance companies tell us it’s going to get worse, not better, before I reach Medicare age?  If I’m going to be forced, because of cost, to drop it next year, is it really worth it to continue it this year?  I could maybe hold on and hold my nose and write the obscene checks for another year if I thought health care reform was going to help people like me.  But it doesn’t sound like anything being considered on Capital Hill is going to help self-insured people like me, and even if it did, it won’t take effect for another four years.  And now they’re talking about mandatory insurance? Does anyone up there realize that’s like a mandated tax of at least fifty percent of my income? Does anyone care? Continue reading

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Filed under Healthcare, Kansas, Original writings

A Beacon Goes Dark

It was the end of another American cultural icon last week, as TV’s longest continually running show, Guiding Light, sailed off into the sunset. No more Reva, no more Josh, no more Bauers or Spaulding’s or Springfield drama. And all I can say is that I am just damned sad.

According to Wikipedia, “Guiding Light” (known as The Guiding Light prior to 1975, or simply GL) is an Emmy award winning American television program credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the longest-running soap opera in production and the longest running drama in television and radio history. It aired on radio from January 25, 1937 to June 29, 1956 and debuted on CBS Television on June 30, 1952.”

I confess. I used to watch “the stories” with great regularity. Not so much in recent years, but when I did watch, it was Guiding Light all the way. I remember watching it as a kid, and followed the characters and their joys and heartaches as though they were members of the family. Which, in fact, for many of us, they were.

But more than that, it was a break in the day for many women. Up early to prepare meals and do the chores of the day, mid afternoon, when the house was empty or quiet with napping children, women could sit down and escape reality for at least a short period of time. Continue reading

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Filed under Life Lessons, Media

Janus Lives!

I’ve been thinking I should write something regarding the insane debate around health care reform. I’ve been reluctant to do so because I guess I’ve lost hope that any meaningful reform will happen. Surely no sane person believes that the health insurance industry will allow their puppets in congress, on both sides of the aisle, to pass anything that would help consumers and simultaneously reduce their profits. Given the powers and pocketbooks of big insurance and big pharma, anything that finally receives the blessing of both congress and the White House will be nothing more than the Health Insurance Relief and Protection Act of 2009.

But one thing I am willing to write about, at great personal peril, is that it is obvious to me Janus is alive and well and living in conservative western Kansas. Janus, you may remember from your last mythology class, is one of the Roman gods. According to Wikipedia “Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. He is most often depicted as having two faces or heads, facing in opposite directions.”

I think it is the two-faced nature of Janus that reminds me most of the western Kansas version of the health care debate, which, at its core, is really a debate about government spending and government programs. We are a particularly conflicted people when it comes to deciding if government money is good or bad. We can’t seem to make up our minds if government intervention is something we desire, or something we loathe. It’s confusing to me.

On one hand, western Kansas votes consistently to send conservative Republicans to Washington. The people who win the overwhelming majority of our votes say they are against bigger government, they believe with a religious fervor that government spending is bad and should be reduced, and they almost all scream like wounded banshees whenever the dreaded “R” word (regulation) is mentioned. In our neck of the woods, we like guys who have a particular distaste for anything Fox News might label as “socialism,” or “big government.”

And yet, our Senators and Congressmen support bigger cash payments from the federal treasury for farm subsidies. They support the expansion of Medicare even though it’s the original socialized medicine. And while other conservative True Believers decry Social Security as Roosevelt’s Folly, our guys support the Social Security program at every opportunity. And clearly, voters out here agree with these stands even though they are in direct opposition to the philosophy of limited government and reduced federal spending.

Hello? Janus called, and he wants his two faces back….

Just for the record, I personally think Social Security, Medicare, and some farm subsidies are good things. But I also don’t see the boogey man under my bed every time someone mentions single payer and a public health insurance option during the health care debate.  I think that out here in the hinterlands, we may find out the hard way that it’s not possible to have our government cake and eat it too.

It seems the overriding idea in Kansas is that MY government payments are good things. Expanding MY government programs to make them bigger is a good thing. But still, we vote for people who agree with our opposing thought that bigger government is bad, and real health-care reform will raise Marx from the dead.

The piper will have to be paid in Kansas if federal spending is truly reduced. Kansas receives far more federal dollars than we pay into Washington’s coffers. That’s been true for over 25 years. And in rural states, especially those with aging voters and declining populations, we don’t have the votes to swim upstream against programs that benefit urban communities. If we raise too much of a fuss about spending on their programs, we might feel the backlash against “our” programs.

You see, we are not one America anymore. We’ve allowed ourselves to be polarized into “your” and “mine” camps. We no longer care what is good for the country, but instead, we focus only on what we perceive is good for “us” and we shrug our shoulders and let the devil take the hindmost where the welfare of others is concerned.

The day of reckoning is near. Kansans will have to resolve our collective schizophrenia about whether or not federal spending is good or bad. We will be forced to look at the contradiction in believing Medicare is good but other government health care programs are bad. And we have to know that voters in other states see our farm subsidies as just another welfare program while we believe they are good investments of taxpayer dollars. We can’t sustain this duality any longer and expect to be relevant in the national debate.

Like I said, two-faced Janus lives in western Kansas, but not likely for long. We will soon have to choose which of our faces is real, and which one is fake. I only hope we choose wisely.

PrairiePond

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Filed under Community Organizing, Economics, Healthcare, History, Kansas, Political Reform

Hardware, peanuts and friends

I’ve got a sad task in this column today. I scrapped what I was writing yesterday when we received word this morning that a much-loved WaKeeney icon has left us. Mike Dreiling, our own “Mr. WaKeeney” passed away Monday night. It was a day we always knew would come, but somehow, I just wasn’t prepared, and I kept hearing the Beatles sing “I heard the news today, oh, boy”. And when I heard the news, a whole bunch of thoughts and memories came flooding back, along with a few tears.

When I was little, on our weekly visits into town, there was no place I was more excited about visiting than the hardware store. One reason was because I never failed to convince my Dad that I NEEDED some peanuts from the red and chrome 5-cent machine located on the counter. They were always the good kind of Spanish peanuts, slightly oily and very salty, with the red skins that slipped off and fell to the bottom of those little, tiny, brown paper sacks Mike would always give me. I’m not sure if it was the nuts or the cute little sacks that made me insist on peanuts at every visit.

When I was really small and scrawny (yes, there was such a time) Mike would have to help me up to reach the machine, where I carefully deposited my nickel and turned the handle. I had to hold that mini-sack exactly under the spout so as not to lose any of the precious peanuts it dispensed, and sometimes, I just wasn’t tall enough, but I could always count on Mike to help me out. Then, and only then, could I walk around the store, peanuts in hand, and look at all the stuff on the shelves.

I was never impatient to leave when we visited Mike’s store. Oh, I liked Mr. Jeffries when he was the proprietor, but it was really Mike I wanted to see. He always talked to me like I was an adult, never, ever like I was a pesky kid, which was most likely the case.

I liked to look at the pocket knives on display, always wishing and hoping that one of them would go home with me, but that never happened. Knives were not for girls, my Dad would scoff, but Mike never treated me like just a girl. He would patiently answer all of my questions about the various tools and gadgets to be found on the shelves. I especially loved the ropes of all sizes and materials that magically sprouted from a hole in the floor. Some of those ropes became leads for my 4-H steers, and some became leads for my horse, and some were just used by Dad for unknown but always interesting farm things. I knew that we could always count on Mike to give us just what we needed. He always knew things that fascinated me and he showed me how to tie knots and which rope was used for every task. Continue reading

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Filed under Community Organizing, Ethics, Kansas History, Life Lessons

The not so sunny side of small town life

Our shrinking community

This week was the annual publication of estimated population numbers for communities in northwest Kansas. Of course, the news was mostly bad as more people are generally leaving the small towns in western Kansas. WaKeeney and Collyer were in the middle of the pack, with population declines of .81% and .84% respectively. So actually, with less than one percent decline in 2008, I’d say we are holding our own compared to previous drops in population. But overall, the news for small towns out here is grim in terms of population.

There are a lot of great things about living in a small town, and you’ve read about many of them right here on Page 3. I frequently wax sentimental about how wonderful rural life is, how nice it is to know your neighbors, and how different country towns are from their city cousins.

But as anyone who has lived in small towns will tell you, there is a dark side to small town life as well. I generally don’t dwell on those dark downsides, but something happened in our office this week that caused me to shelve my original column and devote this space to one of the biggest reasons new people decline to move to WaKeeney, and why many young people decline to stay or come back.

It has to do with the closed nature of local government, the lack of transparency in how “things” operate, and how difficult it is to feel welcome in WaKeeney, no matter what the flags say. When citizens are kept in the dark about how their city operates, it creates feelings of mistrust and it causes them to not participate in the political process or community activities.

Since the “new” version of the WaKeeney City Council was seated this spring, there has been a disturbing trend toward secrecy and away from open government. One of the first actions taken by the new city council was to end the public broadcasts of city council meetings, and in fact, to end recording those meetings at all. People who were not able to actually attend the regularly scheduled meetings could previously tune in to local cable tv to see the meetings broadcast live, and hear what their elected officials were doing. Those without cable could pick up a DVD recording of the meeting, and those with failing eyesight could listen to audio tapes of the meeting that were made available at city hall. All that ended when the city decided this spring to stop all recordings of city meetings.

And to make matters worse, several “special meetings” of the council were held without any notice in the local paper or even in the Hays Daily. All that was required under the Kansas Open Meetings Law was that notice be posted at city hall. However, if you are not a daily visitor down there, you, as taxpayers and voters, were effectively excluded from those meetings because you didn’t know about them. It sort of makes one wonder what was and is going on over there that is more important than the public’s right to know.

And now, given the council’s actions to end recordings of the meetings, it’s impossible for citizens to know, first hand, what is said in city council chambers at these “special” meetings, held outside the normal time frame. Yes, minutes of the meetings are available, but as anyone who has read those minutes knows, they are carefully edited and are only brief notes on what actions are taken. Discussions are not quoted and it’s hard to know who said what and which positions belong to which elected official.

So in light of all this new secrecy, and in the interest of keeping local residents informed about what goes on with your city council and your city tax dollars, the editor of the Western Kansas World submitted a request, under the Kansas Open Meetings Law, that the newspaper be informed in advance of all “special” meetings. He further requested that agendas for these meetings be sent to the newspaper in advance of the “special” meeting. It was a routine letter, simple and to the point, and it followed the formal format generally used by news media across the state.

And your Mayor, Lionel Sawyer, responded to that request in a most unusual way. On Tuesday morning, he stomped into the World office and confronted Editor Jerry Millard in a most unprofessional way. He shoved a copy of the Kansas Open Meetings Law in the editor’s face with a belligerent sneer, saying, “here, this is for you and your friends” and proceeded to stomp back out the door in a fit of pique. Customers who were in the office at the time were stunned. One of them commented that if anyone had spoken to him that way, he’d have punched the Mayor in the nose. Fortunately, Jerry has more composure than that, but everyone in the office was just stunned by the Mayor’s tantrum.

The Open Meetings Law that was highlighted by the Mayor was 5.32 H. “Agenda Provisions”. This section notes “The Attorney General has said that an agenda, when prepared, must be made available to a requester.” But it was the next sentence that the Mayor highlighted with a yellow marker. “Copies of an agenda, however, do not have to be mailed if they can be obtained at a public place.” In other words, the city wasn’t going to send any agendas to us. If we wanted them, we could come get them. Of course, we’d have to actually know about these “special” meetings before we could walk over to city hall and pick them up. It was a classic “catch 22”.

Jerry found all of this odd, as we always receive agendas, in advance of meetings both “special” and ordinary, from the Trego County Commissioners and the USD 208 Board of Education. They’ve never complained about sending anyone agendas. But apparently, Mayor Sawyer and the new city council see things differently. So Jerry set out to find what their policy is regarding sending this information to other media. Continue reading

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Filed under Community Organizing, Kansas, newspapers

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet SENATOR Al Franken!

What a great day for liberals and progressives everywhere. The man the GOP couldn’t stop, and the man they swore would never be seated, SENATOR Al Franken was sworn into office today as the 100th member of the U.S. Senate.

He’s also the man Fux News was sure would turn the good ol’ boys club into a strip club, the man they said would defile the dignity of the senate with his very presence, and the man who never gave up on Minnesota or the democratic process.   SENATOR Al Franken, finally made it all the way to the big house today.

And he was sworn in using Paul Wellstone’s family bible.

Like everything Franken has done since November, that gesture alone reeks of class and respect. It was understated and subtle. Something many people never thought they’d see from Stuart, er, SENATOR Al Franken.

And Paul Krugman wrote this weekend that Franken’s dirty little secret isnt diapers. a wide stance, or financial impropriety. SENATOR Al Franken’s dirty little secret is that he is a true policy wonk in the tradition of Hillary Clinton. A guy who loves the detail of policy and the nuances of the legislative process. Imagine. He’s a serious public servant.

I think the thing I love about SENATOR Al Franken is how he’s conducted himself throughout this process. You know he could have unsheathed that rapier wit at many points. He could have eviscerated the opposition with only a smirk, a few words and a raised eyebrow. He could have gone for the laughs, mugged for the cameras, brought the house down with laughter, and made a mockery of the serious problems facing our nation.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he set an example of how grown ups act when presented with the awesome responsibilty of leadership. He’s shown dignity and grace under fire, and he’s shown compassion to his bozo of an opponent.

I’m reminded of what Vince Lombardi said. “When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”  SENATOR Al Franken acts as though he’s not only “been there before”, but he also acts like he intends to stay a long time. And that has got to be good for America.

He’s made me proud, and I’ve never even visited Minnesota. Good on ya Al. I mean SENATOR Al Franken.

Paul Wellstone will finally rest in peace tonight. For once, the good guy won.

prairiepond

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Filed under Elections, Political Reform, Populists